The first major national study into the benefits and opportunities from ‘early intervention’ has called for an overhaul of government policies to ensure at-risk children receive vital support services at a much earlier stage.
‘How Australia can invest in children and return more’ found hospitalisations for mental health, youth unemployment, obesity and out-of-home care had skyrocketed in the past decade. The report found these late intervention services were costing Australian taxpayers $15.2 billion every year.
The detailed report card calls for a smarter and targeted evidence-based approach to early intervention. This would mean effective support services are provided earlier to children and families, before problems begin or are magnified to crisis point.
The study is the product of a unique partnership between five philanthropic, business, not-for-profit and research organisations – CoLab (Collaborate for Kids – a partnership between Telethon Kids Institute and Minderoo Foundation), Early Intervention Foundation UK, Woodside Energy and The Front Project.
The ground-breaking research sheds light on the human and economic cost of not stepping in early to provide support to Australia’s children and youth.
Report partner, Nicola Forrest, co-founder and director of the Minderoo Foundation, said there was an “immediate opportunity and urgent need to start a conversation about the benefits of early intervention”.
“On one level, early intervention can be a singular service, such as speech therapy, provided as soon as difficulties emerge in a child so they have a better chance of coping at school. At another level, it can involve critical ‘wrap-around’ support for struggling new parents to prevent children entering out-of-home care,” Ms Forrest said.
Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said the early years were crucial for building a happy, healthy and productive future workforce.
“We know there will always be a need for intervention services but acting before problems arise is a wise investment in stronger individuals, families and communities and can avoid costs later,” he said.
Of the $15.2 billion annual cost to Australian governments in ‘late intervention’ supports, the report identified 39 per cent is going to child protection services, including for the 45,000 children in out-of-home care. The cost of dealing with youth crime accounts for 18 per cent while payments for unemployed young people accounts for 13 per cent of this national tally.
The report also reveals a more than 25 per cent rise in the number of young people hospitalised with mental health issues in the past decade, while there has been an alarming 34 per cent increase in young people living in out-of-home care over the same time.
“Our young people deserve every effort to lead healthy, fulfilled lives,” Ms Forrest said. “Early intervention offers up a fantastic opportunity for this nation to deliver better outcomes for some of its most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and families.”